Obama made history, will he make geography?

Khairallah Khairallah

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President Barack Obama’s tour in the region cannot be underestimated especially in the light of his success in reconciling Turkey and Israel after a rupture of relations that lasted for around three years. It seems that the Syrian worry imposed on both sides to reconcile. Israel apologized as it was called on in response to a clear and decisive American request.

This development is important on the regional level. But what cannot be overlooked as well is that Obama had enough courage to tell the Palestinians and the Israelis what they must be told. His speech in Jerusalem was really historical.

It is true that President Obama did not totally conceal his commitment to Israel, and he went further than he should have when he spoke of Israel as a “Jewish State” without clearly signaling that this must not mean that Israel can one day expel Arabs residing in its 1948 borders.

What they want to hear?

It is true however that he did tell the Israelis what they must hear.

He frankly told them that “peace is a necessity” and that “it is the only way to achieve security.” He also said that “the only way for Israel to flourish and last as a democratic Jewish state will be through establishing a viable Palestinian state.”

In addition to that, he said after rejecting “occupation” and the policy of banishment practiced by Israel that “it is the Palestinians’ right to be free people living in their land” and called for drawing the borders of the Palestinian state and also rejected settlement since “it harms the peace (process).”

One of the merits in Obama’s speech is his labeling of the occupation as such. He said occupation without twisting or embellishing words. He did not ignore the presence of the Palestinian cabinet headed by Doctor Salam Fayyad which managed to build Palestinian institutions and resolve security issues at the West Bank. Security in the West Bank and eliminating the chaos caused by weapons are the best protection for the Palestinians in the battle they are fighting with occupation.

Obama also confirmed his rejection of the Israeli claim that there is no Palestinian partner they can negotiate with, and he clearly and explicitly suggested President Mahmoud Abbas and Fayyad for that purpose.

Obama’s Mideast focus in second term

The American president remembered what he had retreated from during his first term under the pressure of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Congress and the Israeli lobby. Thus he simply wanted to save himself and confirm that he is a man who commits to the statements he made before a fine number of Arab leaders before he was elected during a tour in the Middle East in the summer of 2008. Back then, Obama was concerned to frankly say that he will not wait until the end of his second term to begin addressing the Palestinian-Israeli issue like Bush junior did. And he was true to his word. The minute he arrived to the White House, he began working on assigning a presidential envoy, former Senator George Mitchell, to work on finding a Palestinian-Israeli settlement based on the option of two states.
There is no need to repeat that Mitchell’s attempt was unsuccessful especially after Obama found himself in a confrontation with a fierce Israeli government capable of mobilizing strong support for it in the Congress.

One of the merits in Obama’s speech is his labeling of the occupation as such. He called it an occupation without twisting or embellishing words

Khairallah Khairallah

Now, Obama has won his second and last presidential term. There is a chance for this man who no longer has anything to lose to say everything in his heart. So he said Israel “is at a crossroad” and it only has the choice of choosing the path towards peace if it wants real security.

In clearer words, Obama defied the Palestinians and the Israelis when he emphasized that everyone’s security and development depends on achieving peace in the region.

It was worthy of attention how the American president used extremely decisive words to confirm to the Israelis that America will not abandon them and that their country “was established to stay.” He simply wanted to reassure them that the U.S. guarantees Israel's security and links its existence to America’s - the only superpower in the world...until further notice. On the other hand, Israel has to understand that there is an American strategy that is more extensive than its own.

The Palestinians along with the Arabs who possess a minimum level of prudence and logic are supposed to seize the opportunity and show their gratitude to the American president for his brave stance regarding a Palestinian state and regarding his call on the Israelis to “put themselves in the Palestinians’ shoes and look at the world like the Palestinians do.”

The Palestinians in particular are supposed to prove that they learnt something from previous experiences such as the importance of not losing relations with Washington.

Keeping White House relations is key

What cannot be ignored is the huge loss that historical Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, god bless his soul, suffered from. The loss was the rupture of relations between him and the White House during the end of Bill Clinton's presidential term. The severed relations lasted until Bush junior's reign.

There is an occasion now for the Palestinians to restore connection with the White House. Such a renewed relation based on Obama’s speech will place the ball in particularly Netanyahu’s court.

Responsiveness to the American president’s speech will greatly relieve the Palestinians. This will help Obama move from the phase of making history by calling for establishing a viable Palestinian state, which is not a new call, and enter the phase of making geography by contributing to draw the borders of this state based on the 1967 borders.

It is certain that many issues depend on what the Israeli cabinet will do. But what is also certain is that a positive Palestinian stance will help Obama convince Netanyahu that he is not before a president whose only concern is to satisfy Israel but before a president who means every single word he says, including the statement that an independent viable Palestinian state is an American interest.

Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer who has previously worked at Lebanon’s Annahar newspaper, he then moved to London and began writing political columns in Arabic language newspapers, including Al-Mustaqbal and Rosa El-Youssef.

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